The Dream Machine: Chapters 1 – 5
If ever an episodic game cried
out that you wait for all the episodes to be released before playing,
this is it. It has been more than six years since Chapter 1 came out,
and more than two years since Chapter 5. However with the sixth and
final Chapter releasing this May, it seemed like an opportune time to go
back to something I had started way back then and then simply lost track
The Dream Machine tells the
story of Victor and his pregnant wife Alicia, newly moved into an
apartment block that is not all it seems. Dreams are a feature from the
very opening scene, and Victor soon finds himself having to enter the
dreams of the other residents, including his wife, in order to undo what
is being done by a machine in the basement.
If you have all five Chapters
available to you, you can start wherever you like, but while most of the
dreams are self-contained, the narrative is a single one and really
should be played from the beginning. Once you begin, you seamlessly
transition straight to the next chapter, the only indication that you
have moved on being a Chapter title briefly displayed over the game
window. You can of course exit and load any new Chapter you like, or any
save game you want.
If you load each Chapter
directly, you get an introduction with a literary quote reflecting the
Chapter’s title, but you never get a “previously on” or anything
similar. If you play straight through from the start it hardly matters,
but if the last time you played was two years ago, a little update is
There is a lot to like about The
Dream Machine, not least of all its design. Made out of clay and
cardboard and no doubt some other things, with claymation characters
throughout, it is an extraordinary visual achievement. The Grimm quality
fairy tale woodland in Chapter 5 is the highpoint, richly detailed and
really quite beautiful, made all the more impressive by the number of
separate locations and the changes in perspective that are part of the
puzzling. While each location is by and large still, there is enough
movement and motion here and there, coupled with excellent environmental
sound and a varied musical score, to avoid any sense of a lifeless
vista. The lumpy visages of the characters just add to the ambience. As
far as I was concerned, it was a marvellous construct.
It isn’t all look without
substance though, each dream offering an opportunity to have different
experiences as part of an overall narrative, each one as different as
the other. It can be mundane, touching, thoughtful, gruesome, and
voyeuristic, even within the same dream. There are some fantastical
elements, especially towards the back end, from tickling a pixie to
being ferried inside a vampire stomach. Not everything has that same
vibe - in the early Chapters in particular there was much introspection
and discussion of personal elements of the lives of the characters, some
rather surprising and very real. A conversation Victor has in Chapter 4
about his thoughts on being a father stands out in that regard, and
while the main narrative dominated in the last and longest Chapter so
far, the final dreamer suggests there may well be some more poignant
moments to come.
There is also some very
impressive writing throughout the game. It comes to the fore in the more
personal moments, but is consistently above average, and at times
sparkling. Nothing is spoken though, with every conversation being read.
Which I kind of like, because you can imbue the character with whatever
voice you like, avoiding any acting let down. It is very wordy, so the
strength of the writing helps.
Puzzling involves environmental
manipulation, and finding and using inventory items and the clues to
know how to use them (recipes, combinations, diagrams, etc). A number of
these randomise, ostensibly to enhance the replay aspect, and some are
rather good indeed. There are also conversation puzzles, some rather
convoluted, but none that can’t be worked through with a bit of
tenacity. The first two Chapters are not without their challenges, but
are rather gentle and short by comparison to what comes after. Chapter 3
is very much task based, whereas Chapter 4 is essentially one big (and
very excellent) environmental manipulation (telling you too much will
spoil the puzzle itself).
Chapter 5 is the pinnacle to
date, being a lot of both those earlier things, and where two dreams
intersect (provided you can work out how) to provide some rather unique
and entertaining solves. Size matters a lot here, contributing to the
puzzling. It is the biggest Chapter by far in terms of locations, and is
the most open in terms of things to do at one time, and there also is a
stark contrast between the two dream worlds involved. One is the verdant
woodland I mentioned previously, the other a sterile Tron type of place
made up of cubist surfaces and laser beams.
It is all point and click, and
you drag inventory items to use them. Things to interact with will
highlight as you move your mouse around the screen, and you will be able
to do a single thing which each of them. It might be examine, it might
be pick up, it might be look at, but you don’t choose between them. If
you can pick something up, it will then usually be available in the
inventory for further examining, or opening if it is a letter or book,
and you can then read within the inventory. If you look at something you
might also get a close up, enabling further exploration or manipulation.
It is all very straightforward.
The game saves automatically and
you can also save at will. I did get the occasional game freeze, and I
am not alone, but generally exiting and restarting moved it on. Once I
had to start from an earlier save, and why that worked I have no idea.
You can play on Steam, or through the maker's website (which plays via
your browser, but they don’t recommend IE).
I can’t imagine the painstaking
effort that must have gone into building this game, which probably
accounts for the time over which it has been developed. Wait if you want
for the final Chapter, but there is a goodly amount of playing time
here, and it will soundly reward your gaming attention.
The Dream Machine: Chapter 6
And so it completes. Full
circle, six or so years later.
As a Chapter, it was not up to
the previous one (but that is a relative construct), although it was
probably the most ambitious in terms of story. It felt lazy initially,
and probably reached for the maze/void/tricked up environment a little
too much, but significantly picked up once all the previous dreams
became available to you. You sail back and forth, finding things here
and there, in order to progress deeper into the dreamscape to deal with
the last vestige of the Dream Machine itself.
Doing so will bring you into
contact with numerous of yourselves. Some older, some younger, you
explore your/their memories. Plus you get to be the almighty. I was able
to abolish facebook as a result, and respond to a few other prayers
(he/she uses a phone did you know?) You can be merciful or vengeful, or
completely disinterested. It’s up to you.
You also get to play with
changing your size again, which adds a few dimensions to the puzzle
solving. It also contributes to an end sequence that will definitely not
be for everyone, and will likely be distasteful and perhaps distressing
I feel compelled to mention it.
I don’t want to “spoil” it, but if you manage to reorder the dreamscape
and find yourself in the company of your parents, and you start to feel
uneasy about what the solve might involve, perhaps stop there and then
watch the end on youtube.
Ultimately we leave Viktor where
he began, watched over by the completely appropriate words of Thom Yorke.
He (Thom) is not out of place in the company of the thinkers that
As a whole, I think The Dream
Machine is remarkable. Flawed at times, but still remarkable. It is
impressive and elaborate, both in terms of storytelling and
construction. You can pick on things here and there, but the sum of the
parts is so much more than any bits and pieces. I am not sure I
understood all of it, but will think about it.
Well done for sticking at it
Sleepy people, and thank you for a unique gaming experience.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-6700 4GHz
RAM: 32GB GDDR5
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 470 8192MB
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